By: Dennis Cook
There's something tenaciously organic about Aphrodesia's latest sensuously funky slab, Lagos By Bus (Cyberset). Long excellent purveyors of African influenced slinkiness, their sophomore studio album erases any notion of mere homage, to Fela Kuti or otherwise, and delivers a tactile, fully fleshed sound of their own that handily bridges the New World and the Mother Land.
With a title that either intentionally or subconsciously references Bob Marley and the Wailers seminal live album Babylon By Bus, Lagos is at least partially the offspring of Aphrodesia's 2006 tour of Africa. For a largely Caucasian band from San Francisco to perform in front of Africans is a big deal, and the experience clearly put a cool zap on their heads. On Lagos they've arrived at a wholly original territory, sinewy with the flavors of Ghana and Nigeria but also touched by the pan-global Africanism of '70s experimenters like Lonnie Liston Smith, Gary Bartz Ntu Troop and The Daktaris. It's as if visiting Africa awakened in them an awareness of the good things in American soul, jazz and R&B.
Unlike the better known & celebrated Antibalas, who always seem to be trying too hard, this rolls like a healthy, active circulatory system. You see the flush of their skin, feel the splash of their sweat, taste the salt on their harmonizing lips. Call it "Thank You For Talking To Me, America," where the Africa of '70s James Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire and more joins their grasp and facility for traditional African music to create an truly international sound, free from the straightjackets of culture, race, nationality, genre, etc.
"Agayu" is a robust, horn-driven Afro-funk of the highest order, a lean beast stalking its prey in the tall, blond grass until bursting into a sophisticated trumpet section that recalls the best early Chicago or Blood, Sweat & Tears. Opener "Virgin of the Sun God" simmers with languid heat until bursting into light. "Ochun Mi" and "Every Day" show modern French/European influences common in African pop. Closer "World Under Fire" is a deliciously slippery roll, the sound the Talking Heads might have arrived at if they'd ever fully given themselves over to their Afro leanings. They rise and punch with extraordinary power on "World," where the band moves as one rippling animal in a fitting conclusion to one of the most exciting cross-continental hybrids to drop in ages.
Throughout the playing is sweetly together but flexible, full of movement and forward thrust but never stiff. Aphrodesia takes you places on Lagos, an album haunted by road signs and spectral figures from a continent most of us will only experience through books, TV and legends. That they've merged those myriad deep currents with the best parts of domestic African flavored music is a testament to their drive to create their own voice in a field where aping giants is the easiest path. By going their own way, doing the introspective work of forging something both personal and far reaching, political and ecstatically emotional, Aphrodesia have created their best work yet.
JamBase | Pangea
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